Tony Evers has taken on the task of cleaning up the mess that former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos made of economic development initiatives in Wisconsin. Evers has the right instincts and some good plans for cleaning up their cesspool of crony capitalism and corruption.
But it will take time.
That’s unfortunate because it means that the damage done by the former governor and his legislative allies continues to haunt Wisconsin workers. Last week, Kimberly-Clark Corp. notified the state Department of Workforce Development that it will close its Neenah plant this spring. According to Kimberly-Clark, roughly 75 workers and managers will lose their jobs by May 31.
Could some or all of these jobs have been saved?
We will never know for sure because Walker, Fitzgerald and Vos bumbled the challenge of keeping Kimberly-Clark in Wisconsin.
The company announced a year ago that it planned to cut jobs in Wisconsin. The threat was real. Unfortunately, Walker, Fitzgerald and Vos were so wrapped up in political posturing for the 2018 election that they could not be bothered to focus immediately or effectively on the threat to jobs and communities in the Fox Valley. The Republican governor and his legislative allies did not respond with a sense of urgency, let alone the sort of creativity that companies look for from bargaining partners.
Instead of getting serious about the K-C threat, these supposed protectors of Wisconsin jobs went off on their own merry ways. These supposed soulmates on the state's economy couldn't even decide among themselves how to deal with a corporation that after a century in the state only wanted the kind of favors they had already championed for outsider Foxconn.
Instead, Walker alone pleaded to send big bucks to K-C and called for a special legislative session to deal with it. But Fitzgerald and Vos decided to use the lame-duck session to enact a power grab that was designed to make it harder for Evers to do his job. They even moved to undermine the new governor’s ability to address the mess they created with Walker’s scandal-plagued Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., but did nothing about K-C.
When Walker finally focused on the work at hand, Kimberly-Clark compromised by accepting $28 million in subsidies and keeping open its Fox Crossing plant of about 400 workers while jettisoning the Neenah plant.
That raises questions Wisconsinites have a right to ask: What if Walker, Fitzgerald and Vos had tried a little harder? What if the former governor and his fellow partisans had jumped into action to retain an employer with deep roots in the Fox Valley? Could Walker and his cronies have saved more jobs? Perhaps cut a deal that was less expensive to Wisconsin taxpayers?
We know Tony Evers will address economic development far more seriously than did Scott Walker. Indeed, the seriousness that Evers displayed with regard to these issues during the 2018 campaign played a critical role in his defeat of the incumbent.
With Walker gone, we hope Fitzgerald and Vos will finally recognize that it is time to stop playing political games and start doing right by Wisconsin workers.
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